Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: Of Hondas and Miracles

This is number one of hopefully a long series from the inside of a auto repair shop. Say hi to Phil. 

When I spun the engine on the early '80's Honda Accord, the telltale sound of the starter motor wheeling the engine around with no compression-resistance was not what I wanted to hear.

It's not that I didn't expect it.

Typically, when it comes to the area of service/maintenance/repair of vehicles, I have to see things in purely mechanical terms. Whatever personality or "soul" might be experienced by operating or admiring the aesthetics of any motorized amalgamation doesn't translate when it is occupying my repair bay. The law of cause and effect always reigns supreme, there. As one sows, so does one reap. The math never fails to be accurate. One plus one ALWAYS equals TWO! Slough-off on prescribed oil and fluid maintenance and face premature, expensive component repair or replacement. Fail to replace brake pads promptly when the wear indicators start emanating their high-pitched, fingernails-to-the-chalkboard screech, and be prepared to replace a set of rotors along with the replacement pads. Run consistently low tire pressure, and be rewarded with early sidewall failure. The potential scenarios are endless, but they very rarely have a happy ending. No room for miracles, here!

O.K., one more: Wait until the Timing Belt shears off its teeth—due to the usual and customary degradation of its rubber and fiber composition—on most any overhead-cammed engine sporting an "interference" design, (which, by the way, allows valve-to-piston contact in the event that the crankshaft gets sufficiently out-of-synch with the camshaft, such as when a timing belt fails. Why engineers ever thought it prudent to employ, neigh, even popularize such a design is a topic for a completely separate rant in itself!), and don't even THINK that a tow to the repair shop and a timing belt replacement is all it will take to make the engine "as good as new"!

So, WHY wouldn't I have wanted to hear evidence that valve-to-piston damage had occurred. I mean, wouldn't that have just served the customer right, for being so uninformed, inattentive, out of touch with reality, and/or just too (expletive deleted) cheap to have dealt more proactively with a "predictable" machine? Virtually always, my answer to that question would have to be "YES".

But there are always exceptions to every rule. Without boring you with the sob-story details, this was one of them. I'd tried to convince her to bring the car in sooner for needed maintenance—including TIMING BELT REPLACEMENT, but she said the following week was the best she could do. Her uncaring, unfeeling machine, of course, didn't know any better.

Now, I've been in the position to advise a number of people whose VEHICULAR circumstances were similar to hers. More than one of them NEVER had the timing belt, or other similarly critical job done, managed to drive their vehicle for another year or more without incident, and sold, traded-in or otherwise conveniently disposed of their terminal-but-still-functional ride without suffering adverse consequences. Knowing those people's PERSONAL circumstances, though, I certainly wouldn't have felt pity for them if they had suffered the fate I'd predicted.

Our gal with the Honda and the "ironclad excuse", on the other hand, was truly a victim of "bad luck", and my heart went out to her.

I told her—actually, REMINDED her—about the likelihood of facing a costly engine repair. I had been a Honda-only tech for almost ten years previously, and had NEVER seen such a failure that didn't result in engine damage. I figured she stood better odds of winning the Lottery than getting out of this situation with just a tow and belt replacement. But, as I always did before just arbitrarily removing the cylinder head and setting about making the repairs, I said I'd install a new belt and attempt to start and run the engine. I offered that, since her personal circumstances were so exceptional, maybe the actual mechanical circumstances involving the belt failure in her car might be exceptional, too.

"MECHANICAL CIRCUMSTANCES…" I later thought, pondering what I considered the absurdity of the use of that term. "IT'S GOING TO TAKE A MIRACLE!!"

Would you believe that that engine started and actually ran "AS GOOD AS NEW"?!! Somewhat in disbelief, I pulled the spark plugs and performed a compression test, just to put some numbers next to my initial judgment. PERFECT!

A "miracle", by definition, is an extraordinary event—sometimes the result of Divine Intervention. To be sure, what I experienced with that Honda was indeed an "extraordinary event". Were there explainable "mechanical circumstances" that made this "miracle" possible? Well, all of my previous experience told me there just HAD to be, didn't there? It did however seem that the usual law of cause and effect had been suspended; that one plus one did NOT equal two. One thing was for sure:

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving customer.


from The Truth About Cars

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